“My Dating Adventures Post-Divorce”

A single dad reflects on his romantic highs and lows, what he’s learned about love along the way, and the surprising benefits of going it alone.

by Trey Ellis

ack in 1989, when I was twenty-seven, I found myself at a party of a friend of a friend and relentlessly pursued a woman there until she kissed me and accepted my phone number. We pretty much instantly started living together, married four years later, had two kids, and stayed married another eight.

Then, after a few months of progressively elevated arguing, she moved out, leaving me to principally raise our almost-four-year-old and almost-one-year-old. Because
I was convinced that I would never marry again.
of the kids, I did not have the luxury of a nervous breakdown. Instead, I busied myself changing diapers, making macaroni and cheese, and struggling with my daughter’s hair.

After about three months, I needed something more in my life. I needed a stiffer drink than can be had finishing your kids’ juice boxes. So after I put them to bed and briefed the sitter, I embarked on a four-month binge of wilding: sport sex with an array of inappropriate 20-somethings. You don’t have to be Freud or Sally Field’s agent (“You like me! You really like me!”) to realize that after being rejected by the love of my life, what I desired desperately back then was to be desired by as many other women as humanly possible.

I was convinced that I would never marry again. The complete collection of James Bond films play on a continuous loop in my brain. I was convinced that, like Commander Bond, I was so devastated by the loss of my one great love (though mine just walked out, his died by a hail of automatic gunfire at the end of In His Majesty’s Secret Service) that these pretty meaningless hookups would continue till I was as old as Roger Moore. I had already had more than my fair share of love, so didn’t even bother to keep looking for it.

The night that things began to change
When I pursued a lovely French actress during a one-night stopover in Paris, spending the rest of my life with her was not on my mind at the beginning of dinner. By dessert and coffee, however, we were making out across the table and she was planning on staying with me instead of with her friends when she came out to Los Angeles three weeks later. The French call it coup de foudre, thunderstruck. We both were. She stayed with the kids and me for a month. As soon as she saw my little ones, she dove in and helped out. She offered to bathe them so I could sneak out to yoga, she cooked for us all. I had been single parenting for about a year and until she came into our lives, I had forgotten how much easier it was to parent as two. I had forgotten how much better you eat when someone actually turns on the stove.

It began as a joke, from her, I think. She would call me, “Her husband,” and I’d swoon. I started joking back, writing, “Dear Wifey,” at the beginning of my love letters to her. Soon, the jokes became real and we started planning to spend the rest of our lives together. We mutually decided on marrying the next summer in Bordeaux so we would have known each other a respectable year before we affirmed before all of our friends that we would spend the rest of our lives together. Nevertheless, all of my friends thought I was nuts for wanting to get married again. Even my married friends. I tried to explain to them that I was the marrying kind. No matter how much I fancied myself James Bond, inside I was pure Cosby.

We drove down to Tijuana one weekend and found ourselves walking past a jewelry store. Like Las Vegas, Tijuana is a famous place for quickie weddings (and divorces). Everyone was calling out to us, “Hey, honeymooners!” I bought her a little silver ring with a fake little diamond and put it on her ring finger with the longest, sweetest kiss.

A few weeks later she went back to Paris for two months and never came back.

I was gutted like a fish. I cried so much I dehydrated. Abandoned by my second Runaway Bride, there was a time there when I didn’t think I was going to make it. But then my son would unload in his diaper and I’d be too busy running through half a box of wipes cleaning it up to spend any more time feeling sorry for myself. Single parenting was certainly harder, however, that
I felt as if I was doing seventy percent of the parenting load.
second time around. When I was married, my wife was often out exploring her latest New Age obsession. I felt as if I was doing seventy percent of the parenting load. After she left, doing pretty much 100 percent wasn’t as great a shock as after the French woman had gotten me used to almost fifty-fifty… and then suddenly was gone.

For a year after that, my love life was pretty dormant. I was restless and dissatisfied with my life and contemplating moving with the kids to Europe somehow. A friend from college who had studied with me in Italy had never left. He told me he’d found me a job ghostwriting the life story of a fascinating Italian woman. After the disastrous end to my last European romance, I knew that there was no way that this relationship would be anything other than professional. We started emailing about her story and then she sent me a picture and then… and then, after a month we were calling, emailing and texting several times a day.

Unlike the French girl, the Italian had also been married before, so both of us had some idea of how flexible and resilient you both need to be to make marriage work. Neither of us were aching to get married again right away, but we had decided that if we lasted three years together then yes, we would tie the knot.

The problem of the distance we were working on. I moved the kids and me to New York, cutting her commute in half. Future step-mothering, however, proved a lot more difficult than she had anticipated. Our vow now is to remain close friends—till death do us part.

After this last brush with the ring, I’m not sure if I ever want to get married again. Yeah, it’s almost always exhausting, but I love the freedom I have in being the dictator of my household. I clap my hands twice and my kids come running. When I decide to let them stay up late on a school night to watch Return of the Jedi curled up with me on the couch, I have no one to consult but myself.

And yet… and yet, I love being in love. I miss it terribly. I look for it under every rock. And when I’m in love, I want to be around her all the time, I want to share all that I have with her.

I’ve been the divorced guy at many weddings and when they got to the “Till death do you part” part I used to shrink a little, suddenly feeling unwelcome. No more. Now I realize that there is no shame in the realization that “Till death do you part” really means, “Until one or both of you changes your mind.” There is nothing nobler than love. It’s always worth taking a chance on. For one night or one thousand.

Will I get married again? Not this week. I’m much more careful now. When it comes to my ring finger, I think my hair trigger has been fixed. And yet… And yet when I look deep into my soul I have to admit it… I’m still the marrying kind.

Trey Ellis is a novelist, screenwriter, blogger and assistant professor at Columbia University. His memoir about dating as a single parent, Father of the Year, will be published in June. For more information check out
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